This October, The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada (known to most simply as The Center) will celebrate 22 years of serving the LGBTQ community of Las Vegas. As one committee of board and staff has been preparing to honor this anniversary at the annual Honorarium event, another has been actively polling the community to compile demographics and learn of current needs and desires. The data collected through three short in-person surveys and one longer online survey is being used to craft a three-year strategic plan for The Center’s expansion of programs and services.
Among those working tirelessly to take The Center to the next level are CEO Michael Dimengo, Director of Operations André Wade and Director of Development Walter Reed, all of whom have joined the staff within the past year and offer a fresh perspective on the organization with new goals and new ideas. Each has been eager to listen to our community and learn what they want and need from The Center.
“There have been key learnings that I have acquired since becoming a part of The Center.,” Dimengo says. “First, I am grateful to have learned the needs and desires of many members of the transgender community. Members of the transgender community are some of the most misunderstood persons. In meeting with many of them and learning their stories, they have commanded my respect. I also believe that the misunderstandings of the transgender community emanate right from others in our LGBTQ community. All of us need to take time to learn about each other. We are part of this rich rainbow of diversity. It is mutual respect and appreciation that binds us together. We need to take time to learn from one another.
“One clear demonstration of this is how a variety of lesbian leaders talked to me about their experiences of primary healthcare and preventive healthcare services. One woman after the next told me discouraging stories of discrimination and disrespect as they encountered medical professionals in the community where they were obtaining assistance. It’s sad. Healthcare for the lesbian community is an acute need. It has motivated me to seek additional resources and do additional planning to address the healthcare needs of our lesbian community first, while addressing the needs of healthcare among our other constituent populations.
“Another key learning for me among the many things that I have learned is centered around our youth. I’m particularly delighted every time I meet with the members of our QVolution youth program or meet with members of our Vegas MPowerment Project. I’m energized by our young people’s energy and ideas. I see so much hope and promise for them. But, at the same time, not until I came here to The Center did I learn about the challenges that these young people are experiencing in the lack of acceptance that some endure, in the bullying that they have to contend with, in the disenfranchisement that many experience from their families and close relatives. Not until I came to The Center did I learn of the gravity of youth homelessness—that LGBTQ youth homelessness is a significant piece of all youth homelessness in our community. Something has to be done to address that.”
As director of operations, Wade oversees the program managers who work closely every day with the hundreds of LGBTQ individuals who attend regular group meetings at The Center. Many come in at other times seeking help with housing, clothing, financial assistance, connection to medical care and often life-saving advice. He has learned through his team the challenges the community faces and the obstacles his own staff have to overcome to adequately serve this population.
“Something I intrinsically knew [prior to joining the staff], but now better understand, is how much The Center means to the community at-large. And that The Center is the ‘go-to’ for all things LGBTQ; therefore, we have to be nimble in our ability to respond to the various and diverse needs of the community. I’ve definitely come to understand that we are a small and mighty bunch who need a few more hours in the day to accomplish more. But we do what we can!” Wade says.
As The Center develops goals and courses of action for the future, Wade says, “We have a lot of great things happening, but we recognize that there are a lot of people in need. We’d like to be able to provide more services in house, and refer out less, so that we can decrease the time frame from referring someone to a particular service to them accessing the service. We believe that moving in the space of health care is one road we may travel down. We’d like to ensure that more LGBTQ (with an emphasis on the T and the L) have access to culturally competent and sensitive healthcare services by us providing those services ourselves. Additionally, we believe addressing the youth homelessness issue by way of a shelter or housing component will position us to serve more people in emergency need, especially when other shelter and/or housing are full or people are unwilling to access particular shelter and/or housing due to lack of LGBTQ competency.
“Additionally, we want to ensure that we can provide well-rounded services such as mental health, those that support economic well-being, family-centered services and services that continuously focus on the needs of the transgender and gender non-conforming population. Lastly, we want to make sure that all of our programs and services are accessible to communities of color. We hope to, through collaboration with others, build programs and services for the African-American, Latin@ and other people of color communities.”
A non-profit organization like The Center — which serves the public six days a week — relies on a variety of grants to sustain its individual programs and, in large part, personal donations both large and small to cover day-to-day operating costs. Reed knows firsthand that raising such funds is an ongoing challenge. His goal is to convert the financial support for the Opening New Doors capital campaign into The Rainbow Circle, a sustaining fundraising program that would support all of the activities of The Center.
“I believe the new three-year plan will identify areas, like the transgender community, that need more services. I think it will also show that to sustain the current and expanding level of services offered at The Center, we must develop new revenue streams around the programs and continue to develop a sustaining gifts program that ensures the stability of The Center,” Reed says.
“We have to be grateful because it was a strategic plan of some of our past leaders that put The Center on the trajectory of opening up its new home and its new building in March 2013,” Dimengo says. “As they did so, I believe one ‘unintended consequence’ was the enormous programmatic growth that we have experienced since opening our doors here. Last year alone, we saw a 62 percent increase in program participants over 2013. For continuity sake, we need to set operational goals that will harness that growth and manage it appropriately. We need to continue to develop our programing in service to the community.”
The Center invites any and all residents of and visitors to Southern Nevada to visit its facility at 401 S. Maryland Pkwy. in downtown Las Vegas and get involved in its ongoing programs and help further its goals. More information about meetings, activities, volunteer opportunities and ways to contribute can be found online at www.thecenterlv.org.